Old pictures and fond memories

My dad with me and my brothers, Tim and Jim, in Bowen, Ill., sometime in the early 1960s.

Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God. (Gal. 4: 6-7, Common English Bible)

I’ve been scanning old family photos and it’s been an entertaining experience. Besides coming across such classic 1960s images as my brothers and I in Indian headdresses (not sure why we had those) or me wearing my light blue cat-eye glasses, I’ve found some sweet photos of my parents as young parents themselves. There’s one from the early 1960s of my dad with the three of us out in our yard on a sunny Sunday morning. It might have been Easter, judging by the rather pristine quality of my brother Tim’s suit and my dress. Jim looks like he’s about 2, so Tim must be about 4 and I would be 5 ½. Dad is looking at the camera, but he’s also got his fingers on Jim’s shoulders to keep him from wandering off. (Jim seldom stayed still for long.) It’s a cute picture, but it also reminds me of how much my family’s life revolved around the church. Dad was a minister, so I suppose that was natural. But we grew up understanding that even if Dad had been a carpenter or a farmer, we would have been in church every time the doors were open. While I may have resented it at times, I’m thankful now that my parents modeled a life of faith for us. They loved and served God and taught us to do the same. I know not everyone has had a father that modeled the Christian life, but we all have a heavenly father who has chosen us as his sons and daughters. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can know true freedom. I hope on this Father’s Day you’ll remember that God offers healing and hope no matter kind of family we come from.

Bible Review: The Transformation Study Bible

trans NLT sbI’m not usually a fan of study Bibles built around a particular author or niche group. (I’ve been using the ESV Study Bible and like it a lot.) But when I got the chance to receive a review copy of the Transformation Study Bible, I was interested. For one thing, it’s the New Living Translation (NLT), which I’ve been interested in learning more about. And I was very interested in the study helps based on Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s series of Bible commentaries.

So far, I like this study Bible. The NLT is a good, readable translation and I think I’m going to enjoy using it. It’s a dynamic equivalent translation, which means it’s less formal than the ESV. That makes it a good contrasting version for study. This Bible’s layout is useful — it has two columns, with center references, for the scripture on the top two-thirds of the page. The bottom third (more or less) of the page is the study notes, which are set in two columns in a slightly smaller contrasting font. The text of both is large enough to be easily read. (And that matters a lot to me as my eyes get older.) There’s also a concordance and maps in the back, along with preaching outlines of each book of the Bible (a feature of Wiersbe’s commentaries). Interspersed throughout the Bible are set-off sections labeled “Catalyst.” These sections highlight specific themes in the text. For example, on the page with Hebrews 11 is a Catalyst section about Faith — just a couple of paragraphs of additional thoughts a reader could use devotionally or to spark further study. Each book of the Bible has an introduction that includes an outline of the book, a brief overview, and a section labeled “Be Transformed,” which focuses on the application of the text. Dr. Wiersbe is a respected writer, preacher and Bible teacher and his commentaries have been widely used for years. His doctrine falls squarely within the evangelical mainstream. His commentary in the various helps and study notes is clear and will be easily understood by the average person in the pew, as well as useful to pastors and teachers.

Most study Bibles come with a certain set of theological presuppositions and the reader needs to keep in mind that introductory sections and study notes are helps and not part of the scripture. But a good study Bible can help the reader understand more and dig deeper into the scripture. I think the Transformation Study Bible is another good tool that a student of the Word will find useful.

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

(This is my May 2009 column)
Psalm 77

In the early 1970s my father preached at a church in Linton, Indiana. I was just entering my teens and it was a good place for me. My brothers and I had friends in our neighborhood and there were a lot of kids in our church. What I was not aware of though, was that it wasn’t such a good place for my dad. There were good people there, but it just wasn’t a good fit and after a couple of years he resigned. I think it was the only time my father resigned before he’d been called by another church. I’ll never forget our parents telling us that we were going to be moving, but we didn’t know where or even if we would be serving another church. I think we were all a little scared, but our parents told us that God was with us and we could trust him.

My parents understood, better than my brothers and I, what the psalmist is talking about in Psalm 77. Sometimes God seems far away, sometimes we enter a desert time in our lives when the path is rocky and hard to follow. Those are the times, though, that we can say:

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
(Psalm 77:11-12)

By remembering what God has done throughout history, and in our lives, we’re reminded of what a great God we serve and can be comforted. We know we can trust him because he’s never failed us.

And all those years ago, when we wondered what God had in mind for our family, he proved himself faithful once again. Within a month, my Dad had been called to another church in southern Indiana, where he would have a fruitful ministry and our family would be at home once more. And ever since, when the path seems uncertain, that time in my life reminds me of God’s faithfulness and I know I can trust him.

True Riches

(this is my April 2009 newsletter column)

Mark 10:17-27

Whenever a group from our church returns from a mission trip to Mexico or Nicaragua, someone always mentions the joy they saw even in the midst of great poverty. Our brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries experience real joy and peace from knowing Christ, maybe because they understand very well what it means to totally rely on God’s provision. When I see the pictures from Nicaragua and Mexico, and hear the testimonies of those who went there, I’m reminded how wealthy I am compared to most of the world. I don’t usually think of myself that way, but I have everything I need and much of what I want.

So when I read the story of Jesus and the rich young man who came to him for guidance, I realize I have a lot more in common with that young man than I usually like to admit. Jesus told the young man that even though he’d lived a good life, there was something lacking. He needed to sell his possessions and give to the poor, and then follow Jesus. The young man apparently found this too hard and went away sad, and without making any changes in his life. Jesus used this opportunity to teach his disciples about what it means to follow him. They didn’t find the teaching any more comfortable than the rich young man did.

It’s not that having wealth is a bad thing, but too often our material comfort leads to complacency. Our possessions can get in the way of our walk with Christ. Jesus told his disciples it was harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples were somewhat dismayed by this statment. In Jewish culture, as in ours, wealth was considered a sign that a person had done everything right. They were blessed. So if a wealthy person couldn’t get to heaven, who could? But Jesus reminds them that nothing is impossible with God.

I, like the rich young man, could say I’ve lived a pretty good life. And I, too, am uncomfortable with the idea that I might have to give up something to follow Jesus. But my salvation isn’t dependent on what I can do or on what I possess. It’s because of the saving work of Jesus Christ. And because of that I need to be willing to do whatever God asks of me. That’s the only way I’ll ever know the true riches that come from a life lived for Christ.

Reminders of eternity

I usually live very much in the present. I reflect on the past and dream about the future, but most of the time I’m preoccupied with what’s going on right now. And though I believe in God’s promise of eternal life, I don’t think about it much. But once in a while, I’m reminded.

Today I learned that a dear old saint in our church has died. I don’t know the details, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Daisy went to sleep and never woke up — or rather, she woke up with Jesus. One minute she’s dozing over her paper, the next she’s hearing “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” And Daisy was a faithful servant of her Lord. She was quite elderly and didn’t get out a lot, but she cut out articles from our local paper about the kids in the church so our youth leaders could post them on the bulletin board. She always asked about our grown children and I know that a lot of kids from our church have been prayed for because of this dear woman. Daisy never married, but she loved her nieces and nephews and the children of her church family. She leaves a legacy of faith and service that puts me to shame.

Here’s another reminder: A few weeks ago my parents made a trip to Tennessee to visit some of my dad’s family there. They went up country to see my dad’s oldest half-brother, Uncle Avon, who’s 87 and dying of cancer. His son and daughter-in-law have come to live with him and look after him and he seems to be doing pretty well most of the time. Mom said they have a baby monitor back in his room (but he’s unaware of it), so they can here if he needs them. Mom said when they got to Uncle Avon’s house, before he knew they were there, they heard him singing old hymns to himself. His son says he does that most of the time these days. It’s pretty clear he’s living more in the next world than in this.

So much of the time I act as if my present problems and pleasures are all there is to life, but I know better. I’m thankful for Daisy and Uncle Avon for reminding me of that.